Being an elementary or middle school student can be tough, especially when you’re a newcomer at your school or you’ve had trouble making friends in your class. This challenge can be especially pronounced on the playground. Recess is often a child’s favorite part of the school day, but for a student who feels alone, it can be an awkward and uncomfortable time.
Buddy benches are designed to combat this problem. Including a buddy bench on the playground can encourage students to look out for one another so no one feels left out.
The First Buddy Bench
Back in 2013, a first-grader named Christian Buck was reflecting on what it would be like to be the new kid at school. This was because Christian’s family was facing the possibility of moving to Germany for his dad’s job. While looking into potential schools to attend in Germany, Christian and his mom noticed that one school included a special bench in their playground. Children who were feeling lonely and needed someone to reach out to them during recess would sit on this bench.
Christian considered that there might be lonely kids at his elementary school and thought they could use one of these benches. So, he talked to his principle, Matthew Miller, and they resolved to have one of these benches installed in the Roundtown Elementary playground. This was the first known buddy bench at a North American school. Christian’s family ended up staying, so he was able to help explain the purpose of the buddy bench to his classmates and the school board.
The buddy bench was met with a lot of excitement, not just from Roundtown Elementary but from news outlets that covered the story. This helped spread the idea of buddy benches to other schools.
Other kids have also played important roles in spreading this idea around the United States and the world. In 2012, a fifth-grader named Acacia “Tiny” Woodley came up with the idea to install a friendship bench at her school in Florida after moving there and experiencing bullying. After successfully getting the bench installed at her school, she founded her own company called Tiny Girl, Big Dream and began speaking at events and spreading the idea and her positive message.
Thanks to kids like Christian and Acacia and the people that support them, the popularity of buddy benches continues to grow.
Benefits of Having a Buddy Bench at Your School
Buddy benches have become popular with schools because they offer some valuable benefits to students and schools. A buddy bench on the playground can help:
1. Combat Isolation
A primary goal of a buddy bench is to help kids avoid feeling lonely and isolated at school. Recess provides an important opportunity for socializing with peers, but some students may feel left out. Children who are left out of playground activities are not likely to assert themselves and ask other kids to include them — especially not students who are new or who are dealing with social anxiety or shyness.
When there’s a buddy bench on the playground, children who are feeling lonely can simply sit down and wait for more outgoing or socially secure kids to reach out to them. One study of students in grades one through six found that introducing a buddy bench onto the playground led to a more social recess time. Between 19% and 24% fewer students were engaged in solitary recess behavior once the buddy bench was installed.
2. Encourage Empathy
Lonely or shy students aren’t the only ones who benefit from a buddy bench. Other children have the responsibility of reaching out to students sitting on the bench. This nudge to play a proactive role in helping their classmates feel welcome and secure can encourage students to develop a better sense of empathy for their peers.
Teaching empathy to students is critical since it is the antithesis of bullying, a problem that continues to plague many schools. It’s important to teach empathy early and continue to emphasize it so students are more likely to be compassionate to their peers once they get to middle school, where bullying is most prevalent.
3. Foster Community
Finally, a buddy bench can help your school create a deeper sense of community among students. Many, if not all, schools want to foster a sense of community among students at their school, but they may struggle with finding ways to put this goal into action. A buddy bench is an easy and effective way to show your school cares about maintaining an inclusive community.
The very concept behind a buddy bench is to connect students so that no one feels like they’re on the fringe. This can lead to more inclusive friendships among students. The ideal school community is one where every student feels valued and cared for, not just by their teachers and administrators but by their peers as well.
How to Create a Successful Buddy Bench System at Your School
You can only take full advantage of the benefits we discussed above if you properly implement a buddy bench system at your school. This involves four main steps:
- Get buy-in from the school community: First, before you install a buddy bench, get buy-in from as many members of your school community as possible. This includes teachers, administrators, parents and students. Explain what a buddy bench is and what benefits it can offer to students. Getting students excited about the bench before it arrives makes for a great start.
- Choose a distinctly marked buddy bench: You may be tempted to use a bench you already have or perhaps purchase a generic bench and designate it as a buddy bench. This can work, but students are more likely to see the bench as what it’s meant to be if you purchase a bench that’s clearly marked as a buddy bench, like the signature buddy bench from Wabash Valley.
- Instruct students on how to use the bench: Through presentations during assembly and individual talks from teachers, instruct students on how to use the buddy bench. BuddyBench.org provides some helpful strategies to share with students on the best approach to playing with peers at recess.
- Encourage inclusive behavior: Finally, when teachers see students approaching a classmate who has sat on the bench, they should be sure to praise these students. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to help the buddy bench serve its intended purpose and to help students learn healthy social behavior.
Playground Equipment From PlayPower Canada
If you’re interested in installing a buddy bench at your school, let PlayPower Canada help. PlayPower Canada has been providing commercial playground equipment to Canadians for over 70 years. We carry equipment of the highest quality from the best brands, so you can always trust PlayPower Canada to outfit your school playground with equipment that will promote safety and fun for years to come.
Contact us today if you have any questions we can help you with or request a quote. We’re here to help you create a safe, inclusive space on your playground so that all children will look forward to recess.